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Paul and Virginia from the French of J.B.H. de Saint Pierre   By: (1737-1814)

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[Illustration: Paul and Virginia. p.29. ]







The following translation of "Paul and Virginia," was written at Paris, amidst the horrors of Robespierre's tyranny. During that gloomy epocha it was difficult to find occupations which might cheat the days of calamity of their weary length. Society had vanished; and amidst the minute vexations of Jacobinical despotism, which, while it murdered in mass , persecuted in detail, the resources of writing, and even reading, were encompassed with danger. The researches of domiciliary visits had already compelled me to commit to the flames a manuscript volume, where I had traced the political scenes of which I had been a witness, with the colouring of their first impressions on my mind, with those fresh tints that fade from recollection; and since my pen, accustomed to follow the impulse of my feelings, could only have drawn, at that fatal period, those images of desolation and despair which haunted my imagination, and dwelt upon my heart, writing was forbidden employment. Even reading had its perils; for books had sometimes aristocratical insignia, and sometimes counter revolutionary allusions; and when the administrators of police happened to think the writer a conspirator, they punished the reader as his accomplice.

In this situation I gave myself the task of employing a few hours every day in translating the charming little novel of Bernardin St. Pierre, entitled "Paul and Virginia;" and I found the most soothing relief in wandering from my own gloomy reflections to those enchanting scenes of the Mauritius, which he has so admirably described. I also composed a few Sonnets adapted to the peculiar productions of that part of the globe, which are interspersed in the work. Some, indeed, are lost, as well as a part of the translation, which I have since supplied, having been sent to the Municipality of Paris, in order to be examined as English papers; where they still remain, mingled with revolutionary placards, motions, and harangues; and are not likely to be restored to my possession.

With respect to the translation, I can only hope to deserve the humble merit of not having deformed the beauty of the original. I have, indeed, taken one liberty with my author, which it is fit I should acknowledge, that of omitting several pages of general observations, which, however excellent in themselves, would be passed over with impatience by the English reader, when they interrupt the pathetic narrative. In this respect, the two nations seem to change characters; and while the serious and reflecting Englishman requires, in novel writing, as well as on the theatre, a rapid succession of incidents, much bustle and stage effect, without suffering the author to appear himself, and stop the progress of the story; the gay and restless Frenchman listens attentively to long philosophical reflections, while the catastrophe of the drama hangs in suspense.

My last poetical productions (the Sonnets which are interspersed in this work) may perhaps be found even more imperfect than my earlier compositions; since, after a long exile from England, I can scarcely flatter myself that my ear is become more attuned to the harmony of a language, with the sounds of which it is seldom gladdened; or that my poetical taste is improved by living in a country where arts have given place to arms. But the public will, perhaps, receive with indulgence a work written under such peculiar circumstances; not composed in the calm of literary leisure, or in pursuit of literary fame, but amidst the turbulence of the most cruel sensations, and in order to escape awhile from overwhelming misery.



On the eastern coast of the mountain which rises above Port Louis in the Mauritius, upon a piece of land bearing the marks of former cultivation, are seen the ruins of two small cottages. Those ruins are situated near the centre of a valley, formed by immense rocks, and which opens only towards the north... Continue reading book >>

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